Digital technologies are often touted as a silver bullet to respond to the interconnected crises of food, climate and biodiversity. Although they are presented by their promoters in governments and corporations as a necessary tool for innovation and for making food systems more efficient and sustainable, the reality is much more complex.
A new report Remote Control and Peasant Intelligence – On Automating Decisions, Suppressing Knowledges and Transforming Ways of Knowing, published by FIAN International, Friends of the Earth Europe and Coventry University's Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, examines the implications of digital technologies taking hold in European agriculture. It focuses particularly on frictions between new digital technologies and peasant autonomy, agroecology and food sovereignty.
Technologies are not mute objects. Their development, distribution and use are inextricably linked to economic and political interests, cultural meanings, different types of knowledge as well as social and ecological relationships. In a context where money, technological know-how and power are highly concentrated in the hands of a few large companies and countries, the digitalization of food and agriculture is set to reinforce inequalities and discrimination.
Opposing a techno-centric model of farming
This is what we see happening today in agriculture, where biodigital technologies are gaining ground as an essential resource for farmers and other food providers in Europe and elsewhere – as well as shaping key decisions about food and farming. In the process, what is really needed to meet today’s local and global challenges risks is being lost: peasant innovations and ways of knowing about farming and agroecology risk being erased in favor of simplistic data-driven processes. So-called artificial intelligence could put an end to peasant autonomy.
This report is the result of a collective learning trajectory and contains valuable reflections and insights from peasants, pastoralists and critical allies. It is intended as a contribution to an ongoing discussion within the European food sovereignty movement about technology in the context of agroecology.
The viability of a techno-centric model of farming is less relevant than the question of whether it is desirable, and how the food sovereignty movement can effectively build alternative agricultural worlds.